Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 159: debated on Friday 15 December 1922

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

House Of Commons

Friday, 15th December, 1922.

The House met at Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair.

Oral Answers To Questions

Unemployment Benefit (E Morgan)


asked the Minister of Labour if he is aware that Evan Morgan, Woodfield Terrace, Coedcae, Nantyglo, Monmouthshire, has been refused unemployment insurance benefit from 27th October, 1922, because he refused to work at Pwllfaron Colliery, Glyn, Neath, under alleged conditions where his lamp became extinguished by gas; and will he have this case specially investigated respecting these allegations, and with a view of payment being made to Morgan if his condition of employment was as stated?

As I have already informed the hon. Member, I am making inquiries locally and will communicate the result to him as soon as possible.

Representation according to the ordinary procedure will be allowed. I am not quite certain exactly what the normal procedure is, but I will see that the normal procedure, whatever it is, shall be followed.

Moneylenders' Circulars


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether his attention has been drawn to the great increase of moneylenders' circulars now being sent out to Members of this House and the general public, some of them being sent by ½d. circular post, which enables them to be opened and read by anyone; and whether he will consider as to obtaining powers to prevent circulars of this kind being sent through the ½d. circular post?

I am consulting my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General on this subject.

Government Offices (Women)


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he has recently received a deputation from the Association of Ex-Service Civil Servants with reference to the further substitution of women in Government offices; and whether any action differing from that laid down in the Lytton Report is in contemplation?

The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative; to the second part that, as recommended by Lord Lytton's Committee, temporary non-service personnel in Government Departments will continue to be substituted, wherever possible, by ex-service men.

Have any of the women's organisations concerned been consulted on the matter?

Railway Parcels Rates


asked the Postmaster-General whether his attention has been called to the new and cheaper small-parcel rates issued by the railway companies to come into force next year; and whether, in view of these reductions, he proposes to reduce the parcel-post rates for similar weights on small parcels?

I am aware that temporary reductions in parcels rate are about to be made by the railway companies, but I cannot at present make any statement on the subject referred to in the question.

Egypt (Martial Law)

( by Private Notice)

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether his attention has been drawn to the repeated statements that martial law in Egypt is used for the purpose of suppressing the legitimate expression of political views, and whether there is any foundation for such statements?

In no case has any person in Egypt been interned or exiled on account of his political opinions. Recourse has only been had to martial law where solemn warnings to abstain from language or action calculated to provoke disorder and bloodshed were disregarded. There is little doubt that the outrages which have occurred in Egypt during the present year have been due to agitation of this nature.

Prorogation (Question Of Privilege)

The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) has given me notice that he wishes to raise a question of privilege. Now is the time for him to raise it.

The point of privilege which I wish to raise is whether, before Black Rod is admitted, later on, it will be in order for me to move the Resolutions of which I have given notice. I have taken the trouble to go through, to some extent, the Commons Debate of 1629, and I have also gone to the outer Lobby and looked at the picture there, which the House of Commons ordered to be placed on the walls, of the remarkable scene that took place when certain Members of the House wished to enforce the right of the House to decide for itself whether it should or should not adjourn, and so conserve its liberty to meet and debate public questions without interference from the Crown or from any outside body. On that occasion, as you will remember—[Laughter]—I do not think that it is a laughing matter. You would not put up the picture if it were a laughing matter. I think that you meant by putting up the picture to prove to the people who come in their shoals that the House of Commons is a free and independent Assembly, and is competent and has the right to represent the Commons of England without interference from any outside body, however highly placed.

On that occasion the door was locked and, as you will remember, the men who held your predecessor in the Chair so as to prevent an adjournment are looked upon as the preservers of our privileges and rights as Members of this House. I understand from you that you consider that, if the Consolidated Fund Bill is passed, then the House, by passing this Bill, assents to its adjournment. I tried to find in Sir Erskine May's book some justification for that point of view, but all that I can find is that the House cannot be prorogued until the Appropriation Bill or Consolidated Fund Bill is passed, but I cannot find anything which says that when that Bill is passed the House must be adjourned. Some of us feel a responsibility in this respect. There has been considerable discussion of the question of unemployment, and we are going to be asked to-day to break up without having done anything effective for the men and women of this country. I do not deny that certain things have been done and certain money has been voted for it, but I am unable to see that anything effective has been done. I understand, from the little reading which I did before I came here, that the men who fought for the right to continue the sittings of this House considered that the country was in great danger from political action by the Monarch at that time, and, because of that danger, they insisted that this House should be kept in Session. I cannot imagine that the condition of England 300 years ago could possibly have been worse than at the present moment for the working classes. I feel that it is a crime against the working classes for us to go home without having done anything. I know that I may be told that we have spoken and, perhaps, not put any constructive proposals before the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]

The hon. Member must confine himself to a point of privilege. He cannot argue the merits of the question. If he will make his observations on the point of privilege, I shall be prepared to give a ruling when he has finished.

I am rather prone to trying to anticipate the objections to what I am saying. The privilege which I claim is this. As I understand the Constitution—I am not a lawyer and I am afraid I am not considered to be a Constitutionalist—the King can do no wrong, because the Ministers represent the King. I know that they represent the majority in the House, but I claim the right, as an individual Member of this House, to be able to say here when Black Rod comes that, in my opinion, the House ought not to respond to Black Rod and go to the House of Lords to be prorogued. I think that all Members have the right collectively and individually to say whether they agree to the House being prorogued or not, and it is that point which I wish to put to you. I put it on the ground that this precedent, which we have in the picture outside and as to which every Member I am sure is proud, to think of what our predecessors did on that occasion is still in existence, and that therefore we are able to claim the right to-day to move, when Black Rod comes, that we shall not respond to his invitation to go to the House of Lords.

I think that the hon. Member has overlooked the relevant passages in Sir Erskine May's book on Parliamentary Procedure. If he refers in that book to page 49, which deals with the question of Prorogation, he will see it clearly stated that the summoning of Parliament and the proroguing of Parliament are matters for the Crown. The hon. Member has referred to the interesting picture, now in St. Stephen's Hall, representing the scene when one of my predecessors was held in the Chair, from which he wished to retire. If hon. Members will pursue their studies a little more deeply, they will understand the meaning of that picture, because it is still preserved in our Parliamentary procedure. When we come to the next Session of Parliament, a full Session, they will observe that before I am allowed to leave the Chair, and before the Commons will enter into Committee of Supply, the Question has to be put to the House, "That the Speaker do now leave the Chair." The hon. Member is right in claiming—I quite understand the substance of his claim—that since that incident the House has always jealously preserved its right of not entering into Committee of Supply, and, therefore, not letting the Speaker leave the Chair for Committee of Supply to begin until it has had an opportunity of discussing its grievances.

The hon. Member will find that there will be a ballot for Notices of Motion next Session, before the House enters into Committee of Supply on the various Estimates for the year, for the Civil Service, the Army and Navy, and also, in more recent days, the Air Force. That is enshrined in our present-day procedure and follows the precedent of the incident in the picture to which the hon. Member has referred. So we are a very long way from departing from that incident of our constitutional history. The hon. Member claims that the coming of Black Rod with a message from the Crown enables him to raise a question of privilege. That really is not so. That, as much as the other, is part of our Constitution. The claim of the hon. Member reduced to its elementary substance is this: That His Majesty the King, instead of being advised by his Ministers, who base themselves on the support of the majority of this House, should be advised by the minority, represented by the hon. Member and his friends. I can imagine nothing less constitutional, and, therefore, I am bound to say that no question of privilege can arise.

In order further to elucidate this very interesting point, may I ask your ruling on this: The constitutional assumption is that His Majesty's Ministers advise His Majesty that Parliament should be prorogued today. Would it not be in order if an hon. Member, before Black Rod comes, were to move, "That this House do now adjourn"? Would not that Motion be in order and might it not be divided upon before Black Rod Comes?

No. The Motion, "That this House do now adjourn," by Standing Orders can only be proposed by the Minister, except, of course, in cases under Standing Order No. 10, which stand on a different basis.

Does this mean that it lies really with the Prime Minister not only to decide when the House shall rise and its Debates cease, but also when it shall meet again, and that no Members of the House have any power to alter the decision?

There is something to be said for what the hon. Member has raised as a nice point of the Constitution, but I do not think it is quite relevant to the case we have in hand. With regard to the question of the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn), it is clear in our Constitution that it rests with His Majesty the King. It is set out in page 49 of Sir Erskine May's book on Parliamentary Procedure that the summoning and proroguing of Parliament are matters for His Majesty the King.

Is there any means by which any number of Members of this House can secure a re-assembly of Parliament before the time mentioned, for the purpose of considering matters of grave national importance?

The statement of Sir Erskine May is that His Majesty calls Parliament and prorogues Parliament on the advice of his Ministers. As I understand from you, Sir, the majority of the House is behind the Ministers. But my point is that on this particular question the House has not said anything at all. It has not passed a Motion that we want to adjourn or that we do not want to adjourn, and, therefore, His Majesty cannot know whether the House wants to adjourn or not.

The House, by a considerable majority, granted the Supply which was asked for.

Not all our grievances have been discussed. This is a particular grievance that we want to bring before the House.

Is it not the case that the only constitutional way of preventing the Prorogation was to have voted against the Consolidated Fund Bill?

I do not want to detain the House any longer, except to say that I am still unconverted. I want to thank you, Mr. Speaker, very much indeed for the kind way in which you have dealt with the matter, and to say that my only object in raising it was exactly what I said here to-day.

I am very much obliged to the hon. Member for the way in which he has put the matter to me. If he desires to raise a Debate on any constitutional question, I imagine that there will be many Tuesday and Wednesday evenings when we meet again, and I shall listen with great interest to any fresh point he wishes to bring forward on the constitutional issue.

Message Feom The Lords

That they have agreed to—

Consolidated Fund (Appropriation Bill.

Importation of Animals Bill, without Amendment.

Royal Assent

Message to attend the Lords Commissioners.

The House went, and, having returned,

( standing in the Clerk's place at the Table)

I have to acquaint the House that the House has been to the House of Peers, where a Commission under the Great Seal was read authorising the Royal Assent to

  • 1. Appropriation Act, 1922 (Session 2).
  • 2. Trade Facilities and Loans Guarantee Act, 1922 (Session 2).
  • 3. Importation of Animals Act, 1922 (Session 2).
  • 4. Dundee High School Order Confirmation Act, 1922 (Session 2).
  • 5. Glasgow (Tramways, etc.) Order Confirmation Act, 1922 (Session 2).
  • 6. Scottish Widows' Fund and Life Assurance Society's Order Confirmation Act, 1922 (Session 2).
  • 7. Edinburgh Corporation Order Confirmation Act, 1922 (Session 2).
  • 8. East Lothian (Western District) Water Order Confirmation Act, 1922 (Session 2).
  • Prorogation

    His Majesty's Most Gracious Speech

    I have further to acquaint the House that the Lord High Chancellor, being one of the High Commissioners, delivered His Majesty's Most Gracious Speech to both Houses of Parliament, in pursuance of His Majesty's Command, as followeth:

    My Lords and Members of the House of Commons,

    The discussion of problems affecting the peace of the Near East is proceeding at Lausanne, and I earnestly trust that a satisfactory solution will shortly be reached.

    The execution of the Treaty of Peace with Germany has again been the subject of conversations between My Ministers and the Ministers of the Allied Powers. These conversations will be resumed in Paris at an early date.

    The task of restoring conditions favourable to economic stability in Europe continues to give Me deep concern. The difficulties are great and complex, and can only be overcame by patient and sincere co-operation between the nations primarily affected.

    Members of the House of Commons,

    I thank you for the provision you have made for the public service.

    My Lords and Members of the House of Commons,

    I have given My Absent to Measures for the final enactment of the Constitution of the Irish Free State and for the consequent necessary provisions. It is My earnest prayer that the passing of these Measures may mark the inauguration of a period of prosperity and concord both for Ireland and for Great Britain.

    An Act has been passed to continue and extend the measures already taken for improving trade, and. My Ministers will continue to examine with great care all possible measures for dealing with Unemployment.

    The condition of the agricultural industry, which is unfortunately passing through a period of serious depression, is receiving the careful consideration of My Ministers in the hope that means may be found to alleviate some of the difficulties confronting both farmers and labourers.

    I have assented to a Bill to give effect to the Agreement entered into by My late Government with the representatives of the Government of My Dominion of Canada, for the amend ment of the law with respect to the landing of imported animals in Great Britain.

    It is My earnest prayer that the blessing of the Almighty may rest upon all your labours.

    End of the First Session (opened 20th November, 1922) of the Thirty-second Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in the thirteenth year of the Reign of His Majesty King George the Fifth.